Had Federico Aubele never left his native Buenos Aires five years ago, there's a good chance his new album Panamericana would have never come to fruition. While living in Barcelona, Spain, this Argentine singer-songwriter was talking to a journalist about his debut album, Gran Hotel Buenos Aires (ESL, 2004). It was during this interview that Aubele first described his music as “Pan-American.” This simple description allowed him to see his music for what it really is — a meeting ground of sounds and cultures from all across the Americas.
“I noticed my music had a Pan-American feel in terms of the beats being from an American hip-hop influence,” Aubele explains, “and then you got the reggae from Jamaica, some Mexican boleros and horn arrangements, and there's the tango, of course, and the songwriting [in Spanish], which is very Argentinean.”
After having time to sit with this newfound concept, Aubele drew a specific parallel between his borderless tunes and the Pan-American Highway — a network of roads that runs from the southernmost tip of Argentina all the way up to Alaska. Songs from Panamericana (ESL, 2007) like “La Mar” see this connection through, relying on the bolero-inspired romantic resonance of the Spanish guitar as much as the Caribbean-flavored, echoed electric guitar and percussion.
With the alternating use of hip-hop, dub and downtempo percussion, Panamericana can have a very electronic-leaning feel to it. But Aubele rarely uses synths — instead he relies on a Wurlitzer and Sony Acid. Every other effect and weird sound spawns from his obsession with effects pedals — a fascination he picked up as a young guitarist in Buenos Aires, carefully studying U2's The Edge and jazz guitarist Bill Frizzell. “The electric guitar to me is like a synthesizer — it's just like a sound source,” says Aubele.
But it's not just his electric guitars (an Epiphone Sheraton and a Gibson Melody Maker) that he passes through pedals. For Panamericana, he also experimented with effects through his Spanish Jose Ramirez Cutaway C 86 CWE guitar, using a Line 6 Delay Modeler, tremolo and Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedal, to name a few. “With those, it's just moving the knobs around a little bit — you just get to some really quick results; I always like to experiment like that,” Aubele says.
For Panamericana, his favorite effects-pedal combination was simply delay and volume. “I use the delay [pedal] so the sound won't go away and the volume pedal to kill the attack on the note,” he says. “So each note you play, you have the volume at zero and bring it up with the pedal. With that and with a good amount of delay, you can create all these crazy landscapes, and if that goes afterward through a phaser or something, it's amazing.”
What's fascinating about Aubele is that amid his love of effects, at heart, he's a classicist. “When it comes to songwriting, I like a very classic structure of songs — almost [George] Gerswhin style,” he says. “I remember listening to records and writing down on a piece of paper what the song structure was. I did that with a lot of songs — especially The Beatles.”
This traditionalist mentality certainly comes in handy when he plays his music on tour acoustically. Aside from looping himself tapping his guitar for percussion, he relishes the idea of stripping down his global grooves to the core. “I always like the idea of being able to grab a song, getting rid of all the arrangements and just playing guitar,” says Aubele. “To me, that means the song is very solid. If you have a song that's based on a beat, you cannot do that. That doesn't mean the song is bad 'cause there are great songs that are based on the beats. Most of James Brown's stuff is based on the beats. [But] you're not going to grab your acoustic guitar and play “Sex Machine.” I mean you can, but it's going to sound boring.”